I figure it’s a good time to let go of a small dark secret, now that it’s twelve years later. In the past few days I’ve seen social media hotheads go off on former SNL bandleader/guitarist G.E. Smith for playing at the current Republican National Convention. Some voices of sanity have finally risen above the shaming, calls for slaughter, etc. Good thing. Because, as they have pointed out, he likely did it simply for the payday.
As did I, in 2004. I have a fan who is a significant player in that party’s business. I was contacted through his office about performing at a private event, a party at Roseland Ballroom during the RNC, which was in Manhattan that year. I didn’t know what to do. I was not a W. fan. But unlike Neil Young, for whom I have great respect, I wasn’t sitting on piles of cash that would have made it easier to take a noble stand against endorsements, or, in this case, what might look to be an unspoken endorsement of someone I wasn’t voting for. I looked at the calendar. Not much happening. And I needed the money, desperately. I figured: shoot high, and see what happens. So I did.
They accepted the offer like a dog inhaling a scrap of hamburger dropped to the floor, so quickly that I immediately knew that I could’ve asked for at least twice as much and gotten it, no sweat. File under: lessons learned. But the figure was enough–especially considering it was a 20-minute set–I needed the work, and the experience itself seemed like it would be very interesting. I did have my attorney put something in the contract about my likeness, appearance, etc. could not be used as advertisement, endorsement, whatever. (But it occurs to me now: why would they?) They were also paying for all transportation and hotel rooms.
This was a short three years after 9/11; there was a tangible amount of fear in my decision-making process as well. We were booked at a hotel on a corner in Times Square, across the street from the Roseland. Got there the day before. Had a good time that night, walking the streets–all the way down to the Village and back. Next morning, what was going on down on the street, below my window, was also on national television–numerous protests going on. Definitely added a certain edge to the day. Soundcheck was early afternoon; we were escorted over to the venue and after setting up and checking, we were given the play-by-play–our movements backstage were very tightly scripted–and the show was being recorded on video. “You need to be in this spot at 7:23pm; in 4 minutes, someone will escort you to this spot,” etc. We went back to the hotel after getting some lunch. As the day was progressing, the tension on the streets increased. The street between the hotel and venue was barricaded off. Three of us had gig bags with guitars in them–a “gig bag” being a soft case that you carry on your shoulder; they’re an easier way to transport instruments when in less than likely harmful environments. We were told to enter through the front doors of the venue–we had laminated passes that would get us through the doors and backstage. But as soon as we came out of the hotel to walk over to the venue, we saw rows of heavily armed law enforcement officers guarding those front doors. Not wanting any of those folks to think WE were armed (with those long narrow bags on our shoulders), we went back upstairs, called our contact at the venue and demanded to be escorted around to the backstage door. Which is what they should’ve done anyway.
I don’t remember much about the set itself, except that it went quickly–4 songs and we’re outta there! There’s a video of Down to the Well on youtube from that set: https://youtu.be/Rjb-GYKiEzg; I don’t remember the rest of the set, though I do have a copy somewhere of the video of the whole thing. We lingered at the buffet tables and the bar afterwards, taking in some of the “free”; there were other acts playing before and after us. After dismal results at selling merch in the lobby towards the end of the night, I got into a heated and hilarious argument with a delegate’s daughter from Montana, who’d had way too much of the Kool-Aid, literal and otherwise. I took that as a sign to head on out. We had an early morning ahead.
I had arranged, by talking with our “handler” that night, for us to be picked up and taken to the Newark airport in good time to catch our flight home–a couple of hours early to account for traffic, etc. So next morning we got ready, packed, brought our stuff downstairs to the hotel lobby, and stood outside waiting for a driver in an black Escalade to pick us up. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting while watching NYPD officers with bomb dogs searched across the street–that made me nervous. But not as nervous as the continued . . . waiting. I start calling the contact numbers I had for the responsible parties. Nothing. Zip. Voicemails left in vain. We were quickly losing our extra time. Finally–I got a half-awake intern on the phone, who told me a car was on its way. Finally, said Escalade arrived, with a very skittish and peculiarly uncomfortable looking guy at the wheel, who in my memory’s eye resembled a skinnier Chris Farley. His vehicle/code name was “Omega 33“. He helped us load our stuff in, then when we got in the vehicle, he turned around from the driver’s seat and said, “Now do you any of you guys know how we get to Newark from here?”
We looked at each other, then at him in disbelief. “You don’t know the way to the airport?!” I don’t remember how we got directions (this was pre-GPS being common technology), but I think it might have been our driver calling someone on his cell. It was as if this person had never driven a car before. And we had maybe an hour before our flight left. Once we got on the freeway, I felt a little relief. But he was driving erratically–3 near-collisions with either guardrails or other vehicles–and then he started looking at his phone, and answering personal calls. Tom exploded–“Get off your #$@! phone and watch where you’re going!”–something along those lines. By true benevolent grace we did make it to the airport unscathed. While unloading our luggage, the driver said, “I guess this means I shouldn’t expect a gratuity?” To which one of us replied, “Correct.”
We ran inside–at the ticket counter we were greeted by Mr. Non-Congeniality, who informed us with relish that we were too late to check our luggage–so we had to haul ass to the gate with everything. Because this was post-9/11 security, I had to surrender wire cutters and a number of tools that I carry with my guitars. But otherwise, no casualties–we made the flight just as they were closing the door. Got home; the check cleared, and all was well.
Would I do it again? Probably. I’ve always thought that music, and all art for that matter, should be for everybody, inclusive in every which-way, though not compromising for the sake of that accessibility. And (good) art, by its nature, if it’s doing its job, offers us an implicit opportunity for change, for growth, and maybe reminds us of the baffling wonder of what it means to be alive, whether it’s Shakespeare, Billie Holiday, or Thornton Dial. And who doesn’t need that? I don’t think we put anything across that night at the Roseland that made anybody think twice about ol’ W. I’m not sure how many folks in the room were really listening. It was a party; some people danced. Mission accomplished. We were just a band . . . playing a gig.
VINYL ON SALE: Don’t forget, vinyl collectors, the gatefold double-LP issue of Long Gone Time is now available–and is now ON SALE for a limited time in the store here at kevingordon.net. The vinyl presents the record as it was originally intended to be sequenced–totally different from the CD, and with a bonus track not available on CD. Comes with free download of all tracks. Get the vinyl, or the CD, here: http://kg.kevingordon.net/long-gone-time/
Thanks to all of who in the midwest who came out to hear us earlier this month–it was a real pleasure playing for you! Look for a lot more tour dates coming up in the Fall.